Dual-language programs are increasing in popularity across the country, as more schools are beginning to see the idea as delivering benefits for both native and nonnative English speakers.
An increase in the number of dual-language public school programs, where subjects such as math or reading are taught in two languages, aim to have the students who participate become bilingual.
New York City currently has 180 such programs in operation, according to the Department of Education. Two years ago saw 25 of those programs created, with an additional 39 new or expanded programs following this fall. Languages offered include Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew, Korean, Polish, Russian, and Spanish.
Efforts are continuing across the country to increase the number of these programs and expand access to them. In Utah, 9% of students enrolled in public elementary schools participate in dual-language programs. In Portland, Oregon, that percentage increases to 10%, and includes one in five kindergartners. Similar efforts are currently under construction in other states, including Delaware and North Carolina.
While there is currently no accurate count of how many of these programs exist nationwide, Libia Gil, assistant deputy secretary and director of the office of English language acquisition at the US Department of Education, said “there are clear indications of a movement.”
This can be seen in the West Chicago Elementary District 33, where all students between kindergarten and fifth grade have been taught in both English and Spanish for the past three years.
The program is increasing in popularity, with more than 100 families being turned away from the school last year. In an effort to address this, the district has agreed to introduce similar programs into all of its elementary schools this year.
These new programs will be “one-way” dual-language programs, as the majority of students are Spanish. The children will still learn two languages, but the program differs from “two-way” programs, where students begin the school year representing both languages and cultures, writes Jessica Cilella for The Daily Herald.
However, educators report that not all dual-language programs are created equally. Some are not run properly, catering more toward native English speakers, which causes English content to become increasingly difficult while content taught in the second language remains on an easier level. In addition, finding qualified teachers can be a challenge, even for well-run programs, writes Elizabeth Harris for The New York Times.
Sean Reardon, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education who has researched dual-language programs, believes that issues could arise depending on the languages being taught. While Spanish and English are similar in phonetics, other languages such as Chinese, which is based on the usage of various characters, are different and therefore harder to learn in tandem.
“I don’t think there’s one answer in the research, is dual-language immersion good or bad,” Professor Reardon said. “I think it might well depend on what the other language is relative to your home language.”